Older and new purine nucleoside analogs for patients with acute leukemias

Cancer Treat Rev. 2013 Dec;39(8):851-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2013.03.006. Epub 2013 Apr 6.


Purine nucleoside analogs (PNAs) compose a class of cytotoxic drugs that have played an important role in the treatment of hematological neoplasms, especially lymphoid and myeloid malignancies. All PNA drugs have a chemical structure similar to adenosine or guanosine, and they have similar mechanisms of action. They have many intracellular targets: they act as antimetabolites, competing with natural nucleosides during DNA or RNA synthesis, and as inhibitors of key cell enzymes. In contrast to other antineoplastic drugs, PNAs act cytotoxically, both in the mitotic and quiescent cell cycle phases. In the last few years, three PNAs have been approved for the treatment of lymphoid malignancies and other hematological disorders: 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine (2-CdA), fludarabine and pentostatin. 2-CdA and fludarabine are also active in the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). These drugs, in combination with cytarabine and other agents, are commonly used as salvage regimens in relapsed or refractory AML. Moreover, the addition of 2-CdA to the standard induction regimen is associated with an increased rate of complete remission and improved survival of adult patients with AML. More recently three novel PNAs have been synthesized and introduced into clinical trials: clofarabine, nelarabine and forodesine. Clofarabine is the most promising PNA in current clinical trials in pediatric and adult patients with acute leukemias. Nelarabine is more cytotoxic in T-lineage than in B-lineage leukemias. Clofarabine and nelarabine have been approved for the treatment of refractory patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and lymphoblastic lymphoma. Clofarabine is also an active drug in AML treatment when administered either alone or in combination regimens as front-line treatment and in relapsed or refractory patients. Unlike other PNA, forodesine is not incorporated into DNA but displays a highly selective purine nucleoside phosphorylase inhibitory action. Forodesine is undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of T-cell malignancies, including T-cell ALL. This article summarizes recent achievements in the mechanism of action, pharmacological properties and clinical activity and toxicity of PNAs, as well as their emerging role in lymphoid and myeloid acute leukemias.

Keywords: 2-CdA; ALL; AML; Cladribine; Clofarabine; Fludarabine; Forodesine; Nelarabine; Purine nucleoside analogs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Cell Growth Processes / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Leukemia / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia / pathology
  • Purine Nucleosides / pharmacology*
  • Purine Nucleosides / therapeutic use


  • Purine Nucleosides